[IAEP] Why Is programming an unnatural activity?

Christopher Lindgren Chris.Lindgren at my.ndsu.edu
Wed Feb 29 13:30:28 EST 2012

While some may have an affinity for programming languages, as they are, I'm not so sure that programming should be constructed upon a binary of natural/unnatural. This binary limits the potential for creating other identities around the scope of who and what a programmer should be, do, examine, and create. 

Literacy acquisition is far more complex than naturalness to the medium of any structured/unstructured language, and Miriam Posner just posted on some of those constructions that consequently produce such social stratification: http://miriamposner.com/blog/?p=1135

I feel as though that this response may come across as being cross, but I just hope to challenge the construction of what constitutes a "natural" ability within any discipline, as I am currently dealing with such issues in Composition Studies/Critical Code Studies.

Honestly, I would just like to see such social complexities taken more into account with projects such as OLPC/Sugar, etc., and I hope that said projects could be a catalyst for displaying and responding to the social nature of developing smarter computing cultures, rather than keeping both eyes too deep in the code.

Chris Lindgren
Graduate Instructor
Department of English, Rm 217
North Dakota State University
Fargo, ND 58105

Research Assistant
Sugar Labs @ NDSU | fargoxo.wordpress.com

From: iaep-bounces at lists.sugarlabs.org [iaep-bounces at lists.sugarlabs.org] on behalf of Yamaplos . [yamaplos at gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 10:29 AM
To: Steve Thomas
Cc: iaep; squeakland
Subject: Re: [IAEP] Why Is programming an unnatural activity?


for some reason the link to your blog didn't work for me. JIC others
needed it, here:

I really appreciate you pointing out these great ideas to the rest of us.

For many years I have struggled on trying to understand what makes it
so that some people can and others can't. My conclusion is still that
it is clearly a "gifting", part of the uniqueness every living being
is created with. Some are "natural" programmers, others aren't. The
latter being the majority by far, ergo, as a general thing
"programming is unnatural", end of story.
Ideologically this is very inconvenient, of course, since it is quite
unfashionable, nay, *very* inappropriate, political incorrect to point
at differences in potential from conception, but, no longer being
constrained by ideology, I can afford to call it as it is.

This still leaves me with trying to figure out who it  makes sense to
invest in. And apparently more difficult, how best to "seed" that
process, and overcome "blocks" (in some way what your authors call
"bugs"), some of these set there by the kindness of the official
one-size-fits-all education experts. Your notes and the authors you
point out will help learn and understand how this all happens, thank

Of course, even then we are left with trying to figure out how to beat
socioeconomics, like this kid in a Nepal school I met, that will have
extra struggles to go through to achieve his potential.

2012/2/29, Steve Thomas <sthomas1 at gosargon.com>:
> So I am sharing my blog post Why Is programming an unnatural activity?Hoping
> to get some feedback from the community.
> For my P2PU course I have been looking at "Novice" programmers.  And in one
> of the papers we were asked to read Mark Guzdial asks:
> “Why?” Is programming an unnatural activity?
> Could programming be made easier in a different form?
> Could programming be taught in a different way that makes learning easier?
> Or maybe we just have no idea how to actually measure what students know
> about programming.* (1).*
> My main problem with the Guzdial paper (this was more my problem than a
> problem with the paper) is I felt it didn't provide enough details or
> specifics on "Why it is so hard to learn to Program?"  I need specifics and
> examples to get my head around things.  Roy Pea, was a great find and
> perhaps not surprisingly (for me at least) the Resnick article was very
> useful.
> Pea (et al) talked about three classes of bugs:
>    1. Parallelism Bugs
>    2. Intentionality Bugs
>    3. Egocentrism Bugs
> *Parrallelism Bugs*
> The Parallelism Bugs, is basically an "assumption of different lines in a
> program can be active or known by the computer at the same time or
> in parallel".  For example, look at this code:
> If (Size == 10)
>     print "Hello"
> For Size in range(10):
>     print Size
> When High School students. in their second year of programming course, were
> asked what they thought the program would print 8 out of 15 predicted
> "Hello" would print after "10".
> *Intentionality Bugs*
> The Intentionality Bugs, is the idea in the child's mind that "the program
> has goals and knows or sees what will happen elsewhere in itself."
> *Egocentrism Bugs*
> The Egocentrism Bugs, stem from the belief that there "is more of their
> meaning for what they want to accomplish in the program than is actually
> present in the code."  Funny, I see these kinds of bugs all the time in my
> code and those of other experience programmers :)
> *The Super Bug*
> He concludes that all these derive from the Super Bug:
> <http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-sQRGOhtVBbM/T03XIvqxgvI/AAAAAAAABBg/itlJA6dtKhU/s1600/SuperBug%0D.png>
> The idea that there is a "hidden mind somewhere inside the programming
> language that has intelligent and interpretive powers."  Not surprising
> since most of kids experiences are with semi-intelligent beings (aka
> Parents)
> MultiLogo: A Study of Children and Concurrent Programming - Mitchel
> Resnick<http://llk.media.mit.edu/papers/MultiLogo.html>
> Resnick, noted that:
> "This sequential paradigm does not match the way the real world works:
> people and animals act in parallel, objects interact in parallel. As a
> result, many real-world activities can not be modelled in a natural way
> with sequential programming."
> Thus developed a concurrent or parrallel version of Logo (Multi-Logo), so
> they kids had a language/environment that more closely matched their view
> of the world.  Although he did not go "parrallel" enough, and in his
> lessons learned asked "
> *SideNote*: I used to think and say that Concurrent Programming was really
> really hard.  I had plenty of evidence to back this up and had heard and
> read much smarter people than me saying the same thing.  Then I encountered
> Etoys (and later Scratch) and started teaching these to kids.  And realized
> that Concurrent Programming is actually easier (although you do have the
> added complexity of syntonization issues) .  The problem was not the
> topic/idea, it was the language we use to think about it.
> Resnick noted that "In general, students appropriated the idea of agents
> sending messages to one another quite easily."  Too bad we don't teach more
> Smalltalk.
> He identified three types of bugs specific to concurrent programming:
>    1. Problem Decomposition Bugs
>    2. Synchronization Bugs
>    3. Object Oriented Bugs
> *Problem Decomposition Bugs*
> "These bugs arise out of students' difficulties decomposing problems into
> actions to be performed concurrently by multiple agents."  Here there are
> two types of decomposition:
>    1. functional decomposition - dividing a problem in to simpler
>    sub-problems (what needs to be done)
>    2. agency decomposition - dividing the functional pieces among different
>    agents (who does it)
> *Synchronization Bugs*
> "These bugs arise out of students' difficulties coordinating and
> orchestrating the activities of multiple agents."
> These bugs he divides into two type: Unintended Sequentiality and
> Unintended Concurrency. In these cases the student expected Sequetiality
> and got Concurrence (or vice versa).
> It seems that in designing Multi-Logo to deal with synchronization he
> provided two mechanisms: ask and demand.  Where when you "ask" an agent
> something (ex: flash light -  for 20 seconds) the request is queued up to
> be executed in the order received. When you "demand" the agent interrupts
> what is going on to perform the request (or it might simply put it at the
> head of the queue, I am not sure).  It is interesting, at least to me, that
> Scratch, developed later by Resnick and his team,  got rid of the ask and
> demand and went with a "broadcast" "wait" and "do for X seconds" to allow
> for synchronization.  I believe this simplifies and avoids a number of
> problems for novice programmers.
> *Object Oriented Bugs*
> "These bugs arise out of students' confusion among different types of
> "objects"  Multi-Logo has multiple types of objects: agents, turtle, and on
> the Lego Interface box (think early NXT) ports and sensors.  Part of this
> confusion may have been the overloading of "halt" which for an agent,
> Another quote for Guzial:
>    - " our current programming languages do not allow people to program the
>    way that they think about the tasks"
>    - Section: "Making tools better by shifting to Visual Programming"
>    - "having students build their own visualizations had significant impact
>    on those students’ learning."
> *Resnick's Lessons Learned*
> "It is a good idea for students to "play agent"--that is, act out what each
> agent is supposed to do. This activity requires a group of students, each
> playing the role of a different agent."  I really like this approach with
> novices and often warn students "Step away from the computer and no one
> will get hurt".  Having them act out the program and program each other is
> a good way to do this.
> In designing Multi-Logo he realized he did not go far enough
> in parallelism: "An alternate approach, of course, is to change the design
> of MultiLogo to match students' preconceptions. For example, I could
> redesign MultiLogo agents so that each agent could do several things at the
> same time, in line with students' expectations of "excessive parallelism."
>  He later did have agents that can do several things at the same time.
> He also discussed the idea of design the environment match the students
> pre-conceptions. Would be interesting to find out what problems it solves
> (and those it doesn't) and what new problems it creates.
> FInally, for a real treat* *at some possibilities for a new programming
> environment see this:
> Bret Victor - Inventing on Principle <http://vimeo.com/36579366> from
> CUSEC<http://vimeo.com/cusec>
>  on Vimeo <http://vimeo.com/>.
> References:
> NOTE: If you have limited time, I would recommend reading (2) then (5),
> then for a real treat watch the Brett Victor talk (7)
> (1) Why Is It So Hard to Learn to Program - Mark Guzdial
> (2) Children's Mental Models of Recursive LOGO Programs - D. Midian Kurland
> and Roy D. Pea
> (1985)<http://www.stanford.edu/~roypea/RoyPDF%20folder/A27_Kurland_Pea_85.pdf>
> (3) Language Independent Conceptual "Bugs" in Novice Programming - Roy D.
> Pea (1986) <http://www.stanford.edu/~roypea/RoyPDF%20folder/A28_Pea_86.pdf>
> (4) The Buggy Path to the Development of Programming Expertise - Roy D. Pea
> and Elliot Soloway
> (1987)<http://www.stanford.edu/~roypea/RoyPDF%20folder/A32_Pea_etal_87.pdf>
> (5) MultiLogo: A Study of Children and Concurrent Programming - Mitchel
> Resnick <http://llk.media.mit.edu/papers/MultiLogo.html> (1990)
> (6) Programming Environments for Novices - Mark Guzdial
> (2002)<http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/guzdial/uploads/18/novice-envs.pdf>
> (7) Brett Victor - Inventing on Principle
> (2012)<http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCkQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fvimeo.com%2F36579366&ei=KsZNT67SJ4GCgwf1-Lm_Ag&usg=AFQjCNGHACfYpq0IFm1Krb2xBGWAF-_JLw&sig2=eGsjoGhKYkMHkr4HmZLCyw>
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